The movie adaptation of this book, simply titled The Haunting, was made in l963 and televised shortly thereafter. I remember vividly the night my seven brothers and sisters and I watched the movie with our parents in a living room with the lights out. It terrified most of us children—we watched it through, but the real scares came later when we were afraid to go down to the basement alone or outside at night to take out the trash, literally for years….
The plot revolves around four people, led by an occult scholar named Dr. Montague, who come to visit a house renowned for its haunted nature in search of solid evidence of the psychic phenomenon called haunting. They find not only what they bargained for but much besides, and chapter after chapter flips by as the characters seemingly careen into the climax and final pages of the book. I strongly recommend the book, as well as the two movie versions of it, the l963 version being my preferred version, which features Rosalie Crutchley as the unforgettable and unnerving Mrs. Dudley, the daytime housekeeper and cook who explains early on,
I don’t stay after I set out dinner. Not after it begins to get dark. I leave before dark comes. So there won’t be anyone around if you need help. We couldn’t even hear you, in the night. No one could. No one lives any nearer than the town. No one else will come any nearer than that. In the night. In the dark.
And with that ominous greeting to the already nearly mad Eleanor, the story is off to a running start which keeps a racing pace right up to the end. Dorothy Parker, famed humorist and wit, regaled this title by saying, “Shirley Jackson is unparalleled as a leader in the beautifully written, quiet, cumulative shudders.”
And there you have it—a barn burner, a page turner—whatever you want to call it, this book is in a class by itself in terms of spooking the reader, who afterward finds suspicion and a need for wariness in every uncertain sound and each certain shadow, but especially, as Mrs. Dudley reminds us, “in the night, in the dark.”